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Germany

Chancellor Merkel Hails Improved Dialogue With US

German leader Angela Merkel said Thursday ties between her country and the United States were on the mend after arriving in Washington for her first meeting as chancellor with President Bush.

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Merkel and Bush meet on Friday

Saying she was impressed by her "incredible reception," Merkel alluded to chilly relations between the two countries since the US invasion of Iraq when she expressed happiness that important issues "can again be discussed in an open way."

"That must be our goal," Merkel told a group of business, civic and political leaders at a German embassy dinner, including Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan and former secretaries of state Madeleine Albright and Colin Powell.

"The question is, whether a controversial debate is possible between friends," Merkel said. "The fight against terrorism is more difficult than the Cold War," she said.

Visit seen as attempt at rapprochement

On Friday, Merkel, 51, was expected to receive a warm welcome from Bush, whose relations with her predecessor Gerhard Schröder had soured over disagreement on the Iraq war.

Topping their agenda will be the dispute with Iran over its nuclear ambitions as well as Russia's recent gas quarrel with Ukraine.

Merkel addressed the Iran dispute in her remarks Thursday, saying that "Iran has crossed a red line" in its move to resume uranium enrichment research.

"It is a good sign that Germany, France, the United States and Great Britain are on the same page on this issue," she said. "We are working on showing Iran that the international community will not let itself be provoked," she said.

Analysts said Merkel and Bush were unlikely to make any major policy announcements after their meeting, which is being trumpeted as a sign of rapprochement between the two countries.

Legacy of soured ties

Ties between Germany and the United States sunk to a low point after Schröder and his center-left coalition refused to back the March 2003 invasion of Iraq.

Schröder and Bush were barely on speaking terms by the time the former German Chancellor left office in November.

Merkel, of the center-right Christian Democrats (CDU) party, has stressed that mending the relationship was one of her government's priorities.

Bush and Merkel have only met once before, when she was still head of the German opposition.

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